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O'Connor to deal with 'humility'
James O'Connor (Gallo Images)
Sydney - Western Force may yet offer exiled Australia back James O'Connor a contract for next season but they would like him to deal with his "humility" issues, the coach of the Super Rugby team said on Monday.
The 23-year-old was released from his Australian Rugby Union (ARU) contract with immediate effect earlier this month after being escorted by police out of Perth airport in the aftermath of a test match against Argentina.
The incident was the culmination of a string of disciplinary issues that had infuriated senior Wallabies and helped alienate him from potential suitors among other Super Rugby franchises after his release by the Melbourne Rebels.
The Perth-based Force, for whom O'Connor made his debut as a 17-year-old in 2008, had urged him to go away and think about his future after the ARU ban but coach Michael Foley on Monday said there had been contact since.
"Obviously there was an incident here at Perth Airport which tended to send things south a little bit," he told reporters.
"But we've continued to talk to James and we're definitely open minded there."
Foley said they were not interested in signing O'Connor and simply hoping for the best.
"There's a plan to get the best out of him both on and off the field," he added.
"We're very keen to work towards the humility side of things and also the generosity of spirit that James displays in some of the other areas of his life, particularly with some of the charities he's involved in."
O'Connor has been widely pilloried for describing himself as a "brand" as well as demanding "key performance indicators" be fulfilled during ultimately fruitless negotiations with the Force over a new contract in 2011.
A supremely gifted back who can play flyhalf, as he did for all three Tests against the British and Irish Lions earlier this year, fullback, centre or on the wing, O'Connor was once considered the future of Australian rugby.
Obtaining a Super Rugby contract is vital if he wants to resume his international career as players plying their trade outside Australia are not eligible for the Wallabies.
Australia coach Ewen McKenzie told a news conference in Sydney on Monday that he had been in touch with O'Connor but the onus remained on the player to sort himself out.
"We've had some contact. He's obviously working on his end of things," McKenzie said.
"I'll continue to have contact but contact's a two-way thing. We've been concentrating on playing footy but I spoke to him from Argentina.
"I'm interested in improving him as a person so I'm happy to help in that process."
Australia captain James Horwill said it was "jumping the gun" to be talking about a return to the Wallabies for next year.
"He needs to make the decision of what he wants to do with his future and it's a personal decision for him and that's something that no one else can make for him," the lock said.
"No one can ever question his ability, he's a freak of a talent and he's got so much upside to him.
"He needs to find out what's important to him and then I guess work from there."